Vinny Del Negro, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin

Chris Paul says Game 5 against Grizzlies is ‘win or go home’


After watching how the first four games of the playoffs have unfolded between the Clippers and the Grizzlies, it’s easy to see why teams put so much stock in having home court advantage.

Championship teams will win anywhere, of course, and will find a way to impose their will no matter the venue. But in this series, we’ve seen the home team put together largely dominant performances, so as things shift back to Los Angeles for Game 5, the Clippers have to hope they can regain their swagger from the first two games, or they know their time in this postseason will be set to expire.

“We have to come out with more energy,” Chris Paul said, via Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles. “We won two games at home and they won two games at home, and that’s why you fight so hard for home-court advantage. We have to come out with the same intensity in Game 5 that we did in Games 1 and 2. We have to understand that it’s a three-game series now, and we have to play hard and compete and play the way that we know we can.”

“We got to win this game,” Paul said. “It’s win or go home.”

The winner of Game 5 obviously becomes the favorite to advance, and that would be especially true in the Clippers’ case, considering that if a Game 7 is necessary, it will be played on the floor of the Staples Center.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

While the Clippers saw plenty of things go their way in Games 1 and 2, most of the positives came from the bench unit. Any time L.A. was able to get rolling with its starters, it was due to Zach Randolph or Mark Gasol being burdened with early foul trouble that disrupted the Grizzlies’ lineup, and messed with their ability to match strength with strength on the defensive end of the floor.

The Clippers will look to be the aggressors on their home court once again, and that starts with Paul. He can’t disappear for stretches, and needs to be more involved in initiating offensive sets that result in good, high percentage shots — something that was severely lacking for the Clippers over the last couple of games in Memphis.

Blake Griffin needs to attack Randolph to make him play at both ends, and L.A. needs to get back to its trend of having everyone be responsible for rebounding as it did in the first two games of the series.

Speaking of trends, there are a couple that have been forming which have been very encouraging signs for the Grizzlies. The production level they’ve been getting from Randolph and Gasol has been increasing every game, as has the rebounding margin — which Memphis was on the wrong end of by 24 in Game 1, but has improved in every game since. After being outrebounded by 24 in Game 1, Memphis was on the other side of things in Game 4 with a plus-17 advantage on the glass.

L.A. will look to get back to its bench dominating, and will attempt to be aggressive early in establishing Griffin inside. Most importantly, the Clippers will need to find a way to slow an increasingly confident Grizzlies team, or home court advantage by itself won’t be enough to save them in this series.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.